By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON Dec 3 U.S. insurers fear that a
surge in enrollments on the revamped government-run healthcare
website could create more problems for insurance companies
already struggling with error-filled applications for coverage
three weeks before a sign-up deadline.
In what could become the next major headache for President
Barack Obama's signature domestic policy, a group representing
leading U.S. insurers said on Tuesday that technology fixes that
will enable millions of people to sign on to HealthCare.gov have
not fully addressed faulty data that the site has been sending
these companies about their new enrollees.
The problems include enrollment forms with erroneous
personal information and duplicate or missing applications. In
some cases, consumers who believe they have signed up may not
have a file with the insurer.
The warning coincided with an effort by Obama to win back
support for the healthcare overhaul after the website's
disastrous Oct. 1 debut sent his job approval ratings plummeting
and threatened to damage fellow Democrats in next year's
The website, which allows consumers to shop for insurance
policies, is a main component of the 2010 Affordable Care Act
aimed at providing health benefits to millions of uninsured
Daniel Durham, a vice president for policy and regulatory
affairs at America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group for
health insurers, said companies were regularly receiving faulty
enrollment forms. He did not give details on how frequently the
errors were appearing.
"So far we've been able to deal with these issues because
there's been relatively low volume," Durham said. "But now that
the floodgates are open at the front end... we're going to see a
lot more volume. And health plans just don't have the personnel
to do all this manually."
Durham said insurers need "clean" enrollment files so they
can be processed by the Dec. 23 deadline for coverage to start
on Jan. 1.
'THIS LAW IS WORKING'
The White House said that more than a million people had
visited HealthCare.gov on Monday, the first day after major
technical repairs to the website. It did not say how many people
had completed applications and enrolled in new plans.
The botched rollout of Obamacare has hurt the popularity of
the initiative. Opposition to the healthcare law stood at 59
percent in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in mid-November.
Obama on Tuesday encouraged Americans to look beyond the
website and recognize the benefits of the law known as
Obamacare. "The bottom line is this law is working and will work
into the future. People want the financial stability of health
insurance," Obama said in a speech.
While Obama and his aides have been focusing on fixing the
most visible problems with the website, insurers say that
serious technical issues are still plaguing the so-called "back
end" of the portal that transmits important user information to
"It's a real problem for plans when the enrollment file
never comes over, and then you get the consumer calling, and the
plan has no record of that individual," Durham said at a forum
organized by Georgetown University and law firm Arent Fox. "Time
is short. Jan. 1 is coming around fairly quickly here."
Cynthia Michener, spokeswoman for Aetna Inc, the
third-largest U.S. insurer, said the company is continuing to
receive flawed enrollment files, including duplicate records.
She also said that while there have been improvements with
the website's performance, Aetna is helping "identify,
prioritize and test additional issues."
White House spokesman Jay Carney, meanwhile, said the
government was working with experts to make sure every
enrollment form on the site is accurate.
"We believe that and are confident that they will be able to
ensure that accuracy in time for the January 1st beginning of
coverage for those who have signed up for it," he said.
CHANGING THE MESSAGE
Republicans in Congress and conservative groups have
attacked the law relentlessly as an example of government
overreach, criticism that has snowballed since the problems with
Obama's job approval rating is at historic lows. A
Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed his overall job
approval rating at 38 percent, with 63 percent of respondents
saying the country is on the wrong track. The Nov. 29-Dec. 3
poll of 1,494 Americans is accurate to plus or minus 2.6
percentage points for all adults.
The administration is trying to win back disgruntled
Democrats facing a backlash from the healthcare debacle when
they run for re-election next year in Congress.
Democrats in the House of Representatives who met with White
House officials on Tuesday said they plan to counter Republican
attacks on the law with stories about people it has helped.
Some Democrats, however, remain frustrated by the botched
rollout. "I'm glad they're working on it but I'm still very
disappointed. I'm still absolutely bewildered as to why they
weren't ready," said Representative Carol Shea-Porter, Democrat
from New Hampshire.
The federal website was supposed to make it easy to buy
health insurance in 36 states. Other states run their own online